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Authors: Andrew Klavan

Agnes Mallory

Agnes Mallory

Andrew Klavan

A
MysteriousPress.com

Open Road Integrated Media ebook

I am very grateful to everyone who helped me with this novel: Michael Freund and Christy Rupp for their detailed descriptions of the world and work of sculpture; Robert Hartman and Glenn Borin for their insights into New York City law and politics; Sarah Amelar for her labor as my research assistant; Ellen Klavan, as always, for her patience and editorial suggestions.

This book is for Tom and Jean Flanagan.

There was a wooded hill across the street from the cottage where I lived. That's where I saw her first. Or glimpsed her, really, because she ducked back quickly behind the ruined stone root cellar in the middle of the slope. I'd just caught a movement at the corner of my eye that I took to be the movement of her hair and there was a sense of color that might have been her face or her clothing. These stood out against the gray of the winter hardwood trees and the white bark of the birches
.

I gave a brief, derisive snort into my coffee mug as she dodged out of sight again. I'd had a penchant for romance too once
.

For a few minutes more, I stood there at the window, polishing off the last of my coffee. There was no further sign of her. I turned away then, and carried the empty mug downstairs to the kitchen
.

It was about three miles into town, an hour's walk. I wore my old city overcoat and the leather gloves lined with fur. No one had worn hats when I was part of humanity, so I didn't have one. After the first mile, my nose was running and my ears burned with the cold
.

My daydreams these days seemed to have become more benevolent than in the past. Or they were going through a more benevolent phase, at least, because these things do change back and forth as time goes by. Now, anyway, it seemed I used my magical power over the universe for nothing but small mitzvahs. The curing of sick children, unbidden Christmas gelt to widows in their shacks. I stayed away from sex fantasies in the mornings, because the hardons made it difficult to walk briskly. So it was all more or less benign and ridiculous stuff
.

Now and then, I returned to reality – guiltily, because the woods really were beautiful at the edges of the road. Fathomless interlacings of branches and vines. A visible stillness going back and back with just the sough of the faint wind in there, and the unseen river, the water running under a sheen of clear ice. I would resolve to pay attention to it and then slip back into my fantasies, walking along. I'd stopped trying to recreate my now-famous walks home from Agnes's house (famous, that is, in the untold legend of my life). I'd given up on that sort of soul-tingling awareness. Today, though, I noticed I did wake up to things a little more often than usual. It was the cold, I guess. And the suspicion that the girl was out there somewhere. Following along, watching me. Full of childish mystery. The idiot
.

At the post office in town, feisty old Mr Codger gave me my envelopes. Shuffling to the counter in his overalls. Going through all his patented ticks and grumblings. I could never remember his real name because I didn't care whether he lived or died. I put the envelopes in a canvas bag I'd kept folded up in my overcoat pocket. I strapped the bag over my shoulder and stepped outside and saw her again
.

The town – a wealthy Westchester commuter town – had been maintained as a sort of theme park by the ancient locals with the help of the later escapees from New York. Colonial New England was the general idea. The Buy-Rite hardware and the Rexalls pharmacy and the real estate place, a Century 21, had all been whipped smartly into line. Their white clapboards, green shutters and rooftop fillips matched them up nicely with the brick library and the wooden town hall which were actually over two hundred years old. Even the stretch of two-lane where the speed limit dropped to thirty was still, wistfully, called Main Street
.

The post office was colonial too, a no-nonsense clapboard box as feisty-by-ginger as old Mr Codger himself. And in front of it, in the middle of the junction between Main and Highway 44, was a triangular island of grass they called the Green, a remnant of the pre-Revolution original where the sheep had grazed. Across from the Green, on the far side of the junction, there was Ye Olde Burying Ground. An iron railing with a grassy slope behind it. A few black maples on the slope, sweeping low to the earth. And gravestones – maybe two dozen gravestones
–
washed near mute by rain and time, but slanting quaintly in the light and shadow as the sun rose opposite and the wind moved the branches of the trees
.

That's where she was standing, in there. Unbelievable what they think of when they're young. She was standing alone among the graves, watching me steadily. The shadow of one of the maples angled across her. Her hand rested on a modest stele. Her long tan hair was stirred by the morning breeze. Like the cover of some gothic novel:
Fiona, Girl of The Suburbs.
Amazing. With her jeans and her red down vest and her fuzzy black earmuffs. I shook my head. I guess if she'd worn the usual flowing white nightgown, her ass would've turned to an icicle
.

I shouldered my sack, disgusted, and headed off for home
.

I knew her. I'd never seen her before, I couldn't name her, but I did know her somehow. It bugged the shit out of me. It's mysteries like that, mystery in general, that I'd had my fill of. Mystery and Romance. Standing among the graves! I mean, for Christ's sweet sake. I put the town behind me, and walked back the way I'd come, along the sidewalk of Route 44
.

The highway was whooshing with commuters' wives. BMWs and Mercedes speeding to the Shop-Rite down the road. The hoary white mansions on the edge of town catching the snootfuls of exhaust up the spreading hickories on their lawns, up the flutes of their pretentious columns. I stalked by them, thinking: what could it be? What was the Dark Secret behind the Girl in the Graveyard? And how I hated to give her the satisfaction of wondering. It was probably nothing, after all. Someone must just have said something – in the old days, when people still said things to me. Or I must've seen a photograph. Back then, when I was still part of the general scheme of things. Something – something must have suggested her or even somehow foretold her to me because she sure as hell looked familiar, considering I'd never set eyes on her before. Well, I gave it three more minutes, walking under the hickories with the bag on my shoulder. Then, resolutely, I put it out of my mind. I was sure to remember eventually, I figured. It'd come to me and it'd be some dumb thing or other. Everything has an explanation – not just a reasonable one, but a physical one – that's the thought that keeps you steady. Steady in that thought, I approached the corner of the forest road
.

Here, the hidden river broke out of the trees and out of the ice. It grew wider, maybe ten, fifteen yards across. It squeezed itself up under a wooden bridge, getting jazzed, and then broke forth with the accumulated energy; toppled through lacy ice fringes and sparkling ice crags in a broad and scenic falls. I came marching along past it, all steadied. Puffing frost balls out ahead of me, starting to sniffle again. Paging through the Fantasy Juke Box, trying to select a good one for the forest walk home. And just at the corner, with the falls shushing, what should I come up with instead, through the courtesy of free association, but the ever-popular Memory of Agnes On The Riverbank? The memory of her body, that is, lying at the spot where it had washed ashore, just across from the campgrounds, down beyond the high steel bridge. No respecter of the Human Miracle this Death – that's what I remember thinking as I stood there, drenched, hobbled, calf-deep in mud. She was all deflated by it, though she'd been alive not an hour before. Her skin was still brown with the sun and soft-looking and life-like, but it had collapsed on itself somehow. Her breasts and her belly seemed to sag inward. Her ribs jutted out. And with her mouth hanging open and the glassy look in her open eyes … well, it was a big letdown, I don't mind saying, after what she'd been to me. There was a broken branch lying across her hips. And there was a strip of yellow plastic from an exploded raft or inner tube tangled in her arm and in her black hair. And that's what she seemed to me: a thing, just another thing. Truly, it was a disappointment. After the allure of her all those years; the romance and even her agonies, even mine. That she should turn out to be this, really, under it all. A thing. A mannequin. Animated for a while. Choosing sugar in its coffee and philosophizing about art and talking about love – and then switched off, deflated, tossed out with the branch and the yellow plastic. All that drama and suffering: it had just been a puppet show, it turned out, a puppet show done with corpses. Very disappointing indeed, having believed in it for a while
.

Well, such are the joys of free association: this hoary anguish, this helpless rage. But association with
what?
That was the question that was really nagging at me. I mean, I passed that corner every day just about. But I usually reserved Agnes At The River for my reveries in the dead of night
.

The cottage I lived in was a rental. A 1700s shinglesides; a real one, not like the Buy-Rite or the Rexall's. I got it cheap from a steel-haired Daughter of the American Revolution when the real estate market collapsed. It stood at the edge of the forest road, looking across at the hill and the root cellar. Two stories, not counting the basement where the kitchen was. It was white and splintery outside with a black front door and black shutters on the windows. Inside, it was stout floorboards painted rust red and thick brown beams beneath the low ceiling. I sat, most of the day, in my workroom on the top story. Bent at my desk under the pressing eaves. Crachitt-fingered with the cold that poked in through the knotholes. Surrounded, in my solitude, by untold dozens of steel-haired DARs in their more stately mansions in the surrounding woods. Pissing a little Jew into the colonial beer
.

I'm sure I could've had a newer place, certainly a warmer place, something more convenient to the town. Marianne would've chipped in. She's a charitable creature, goofy as she is, strapped for cash as she is herself sometimes. But I figured she had the grief, she and the kids, she might as well keep her money, what money there was. And anyway, I liked it here. With its breakneck-narrow stairways and their rope bannisters. With its fireplace in the dead center of the main room downstairs. Agnes and her tragical bloodlines back to Goshen notwithstanding, I'm still an American myself, yessiree bob. The habit of my misspent youth, and ignorance of anything else, no doubt. I liked it here, clinging to a ledge of the mythic country, me and the mansion daughters settled in their wood
.

Of course, in concession to this century – and it's late in the day, almost Century 21 – I did live by charity all the same. The envelopes from the post office, the papers splayed over the desktop now: they were all from friends. Those good folks I laughingly call my friends. Lucky lawyers, I mean, who were left out of the indictments, who were sick with relief and gratitude when I decided to keep my mouth shut. Well, call it charity, call it blackmail. At least I wasn't out on the street with sad eyes and a paper cup like everyone else
.

Instead, I worked through the day, God love me. Word processor, telephone, pen in hand. Bankruptcies were big right then. Some deed transfers. Some trusts. Paralegal stuff, but then I was a disbarred kind of a guy
.

Anyway, there was nothing to it. Nothing to engage the soul or ignite the passions. With me now, that was the main thing
.

Black, chesty, gravid clouds swung in over the grey maples in the afternoon. I had to chuckle to think of her out there. When I went down to the kitchen for coffee at about three o'clock, I thought I heard her clanging around in the old barn out back. I imagined her stepping on a rake, bopping her head with the handle. Tripping over hubcaps. I laughed out loud, though it might just have been a squirrel
.

By five, not only was it night, but the wind rose and even the wind was black. The trees rattled and groaned in the updraft and shivered when it died away. And I shivered at my desk, the branches chattering at my workroom window, the cold eating between sill and sash. Valiantly, my freezing digits zapped paragraphs from a testamentary trust. Five-thirty came, then quarter to. Then another noise started: pat, pitter, pat. And I thought: Oh, you're joking. But no, a half-frozen, kamikaze rain had begun to hurl itself against the lightless glass. Well, youth is youth and romance is romance but enough, by inference, is also enough. I couldn't just let her freeze to death, the little twit. I copied my work onto disks and shut the computer down; stacked my papers in careful piles – still determined not to hurry on her account, not to fall victim to the extortions of her stupidity. Then, finally, with heavy paternal sigh, I padded down the narrow hall, ducking the eaves. Lowered myself by rope and raw courage down the quick twist of stairs. Took two irritable strides under the beams and, seizing its brass knob, yanked open the door
.

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